BAMAKO, Mali (AP) â€” Separatist Tuareg rebels launched an assault on the northern Mali city of Kidal over the weekend, killing eight soldiers, storming government buildings and taking 30 hostages in a “declaration of war” on the government, officials said Sunday.
The attack was apparently prompted by a visit to Kidal on Saturday by newly appointed Prime Minister Moussa Mara, highlighting regional hostility toward the central government in Bamako and casting further doubt on the viability of reconciliation efforts.
The country’s U.N. mission said in a statement Sunday that six local government officials and two civilians had also been killed, although the circumstances of their deaths were unclear.
“This barbaric crime is totally unacceptable and those responsible must answer for their actions,” said mission chief Albert Koenders. “An investigation must be carried out quickly to verify the facts and bring those responsible to justice.”
The violence began Saturday morning when the rebels launched a heavy assault on the governor’s office, where officials had gathered to meet Mara, according to a government statement. Mara stayed in the army barracks and then left Kidal on Sunday for another northern center, Gao.
Fighting continued throughout the day, killing eight soldiers and injuring 25, according to a separate Defense Ministry statement. The statement said 28 assailants were also killed along with 62 wounded.
The Defense Ministry said Malian soldiers had regained control of all administrative buildings in Kidal except the governor’s office. It was unclear where the hostages were being held.
“The government considers this unspeakable and cowardly attack to be a declaration of war, which leaves it with no choice but to respond,” the government statement said.
Twenty-one U.N. police officers were injured in the fighting, the peacekeeping mission said.
Much of northern Mali fell under the control of ethnic Tuareg separatists in 2012 before al-Qaida-linked fighters hijacked the invasion. A French-led military intervention in 2013 scattered the Islamic extremists, but Tuareg separatists have retained a strong presence in Kidal despite efforts by the central government to control the northern city.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday evening: “We condemn these acts, which undermine the fragile peace in northern Mali and efforts to bring peace, security, and development to all of its citizens.” The statement called for the immediate release of all hostages.